G et ready for a big, full story when you read this book. There are lots of richly drawn characters set against antebellum days in Virginia, but it’s all about the story and this story grabs the reader’s attention and won’t let go.
The story begins in 1791 when a young white girl, Lavinia, is orphaned as she travels from Ireland with her parents. She is placed on a Virginia plantation as an indentured servant and assigned to the kitchen house under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. In a discussion about the book, the author says historical research reveals Irish whites serving as indentured slaves on Virginia plantations, a fact I didn’t know. The narration is told by Belle and Lavinia as we see events unfold from the perspective of each.
Lavinia learns to cook, clean and serve food while guided by the quiet strength and love of Belle’s family. As she grows older, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous, yet protective, son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen house and the big house, but her skin color sets her apart from Belle and the other slaves.
The story of how the author was inspired to write this book is a story in itself. It started when she and her husband began renovating a plantation tavern in Virginia and discovered an old map with a notation, Negro Hill. She gained further inspiration upon learning of her father’s family history – an Irish family coming to America with two sons and a daughter. Both parents died at sea. The history of the little boys was traced but nothing could be found of the little girl. With a story teller’s insight, Grissom figured out what happened to the child. Although she’s had careers in several fields, The Kitchen House is Grissom’s first novel. I hope it’s not her last.
Publishers Weekly says of The Kitchen House, “… provides a trove of tension and grit, while the many nefarious doings will keep readers hooked to the twisted, yet hopeful, conclusion.”
— Lynn Lofton, email@example.com